Evans' prosecutor has reputation for tackling white-collar criminals

Tenacious attorney seen by his targets as `bloodless' robot

July 15, 2000|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

For Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale P. Kelberman, the trial of Annapolis lobbyist Gerard E. Evans had to provide a bit of deja vu.

First there was Bruce C. Bereano, another top Annapolis lobbyist whom Kelberman prosecuted a few years ago. Now Evans was on the dock.

And as it turns out, it was a bad luck draw for both lobbyists that their prosecutor was Kelberman - a man described by admirers as thorough and tenacious and, by some of his detractors, as bloodless.

Kelberman, 50, said yesterday that he's just out for justice.

He said he especially likes the challenge involved in investigating and prosecuting white-collar crime cases.

"Sometimes it doesn't pan out and you have to live with it," he said. "When it does pan out, as it did in this case, it's very rewarding."

A federal jury convicted Evans yesterday of nine of 11 counts of mail fraud.

The jury split on Del. Tony. E. Fulton, a West Baltmore Democrat accused of assisting Evans in a scheme to defraud the lobbyist's clients. It acquitted the legislator of five counts and failed to reach a verdict on six others.

By all accounts, Kelberman is a methodical, well-prepared prosecutor who knows how to present a complex fraud case to a jury in clear and simple terms.

"I think he's the best criminal prosecutor in the state - certainly when it comes to white-collar prosecution, anything in the fraud area," said Baltimore attorney Charles O. Monk II.

Monk, with the law firm of Saul, Ewing, Weinberg & Green, worked with Kelberman in the 1980s at Maryland attorney general's office, prosecuting high-profile cases involving savings and loan swindlers.

"He's an excellent strategist, he's extremely organized and he's tough," Monk said. "That's the big three right there."

Those who have been his targets, like Bereano - who was convicted in a case that involved hiding contributions that the lobbyist made for his clients - are less complimentary.

"He clearly lives in a very naive, self-righteous, unrealistic world," Bereano said of Kelberman. He described the prosecutor as a "robot" who has "absolutely no blood in his veins."

Kelberman says he is not surprised to hear such comments from those he prosecuted.

"I try to be somewhat dispassionate and objective, but I think if you talk to other people who have dealt with me, you will find some occasions where I've actually shown some compassion," Kelberman said.

His prosecutorial skills were on full display as he laid out the evidence against Evans and Fulton during a four-week trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Thomas M. DiBiagio, who worked for Kelberman in the U.S. Attorney's Office for nine years, said that Kelberman always comes to court well-prepared.

"He thinks a trial through very, very carefully," said DiBiagio, now a corporate defense lawyer. "He knows exactly what he wants to do. ... He takes a lot of experience into the courtroom, and he knows how to use it effectively."

Kelberman, who now has more than 25 years of service and about 100 jury trials under his belt, started his prosecutorial career as an assistant state's attorney with the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office.

Born in the Bronx, he took the job after graduating from the University of Baltimore law school in 1975. The same year, he married his college sweetheart, Lois. Together, they raised a daughter, now in college, and a son, who is working.

After 3 1/2 years prosecuting felony crimes in Baltimore, he spent the next eight years at the Maryland attorney general's office. In 1987, he moved on to the U.S. attorney's office. He has headed the office's white-collar crime division since 1993.

As a federal prosecutor, Kelberman has taken on crooked mortgage lenders, lawyers who stole from clients and assorted others involved in embezzlement, bankruptcy fraud, bribery, money laundering and similar misdeeds.

His current boss, 1st Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Schenning, called Kelberman "a huge asset" to that office. "He's got such a great analytical mind," Schenning said.

He even gets grudging admiration from some defense lawyers who have gone up against him, such as M. Albert Figinski, Bereano's lawyer.

"He's a very competent, very thorough prosecutor," Figinski said. "He's tenacious. I certainly have a high regard for him."

But Figinski said he remains "infuriated" by Kelberman's decision to pursue the case against Bereano, which he thought never should have been prosecuted.

Figinski said his dealings with Kelberman date back to the early 1980s, when Kelberman was prosecuting Medicaid fraud cases. "He wasn't nearly as good as he is now and wasn't nearly as polished," Figinski said.

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